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One of my favorite films is Fargo. I first watched it almost 30 years ago after finding the DVD on a “New Releases” shelf at the local Blockbuster. Other than some good reviews I read on the back of the box, I knew virtually nothing about the movie. It had come and gone from theaters without much fanfare, I didn’t recognize the cast (other than Steve Buscemi who had a little notoriety at the time), and when these compelling words appeared at the very beginning of the film, I had no reason to doubt them:
This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred.
The next 98 minutes amounted to a profound cinematic experience. The look and tone of the film, the quirky characters, the masterful storytelling by Joel and Ethan Coen, and even the musical score sucked me in like few movies do.
“This is really a true story?” I asked myself throughout, deciding by the end of the film that it couldn’t have been, but finding myself extremely impressed with how the Coens had used the fib as a clever device for immersing the audience in their art.
Over the days and weeks that followed, I told everyone I knew just how amazing the film was. I understood that it wasn’t for everyone (it was by no means a formula movie), and that a lot of people wouldn’t “get it” (which was indeed the case with some of my friends). But in my world, it was so brilliant and unique that I felt the need to spread the word.
Word eventually did get out, of course. Fargo became a pop-culture phenomenon and Coen Brothers classic. It was honored at the Oscars and Golden Globes, it was re-released in theaters, and it propelled previously little-known actors to true Hollywood stardom. Some of you may have even figured out that the film has had an influence on my own fiction writing.
Almost two decades later, the movie also inspired a television show on FX. Fargo the series premiered in 2014, and in all honesty, I didn’t like the idea. I revered the movie so much that I feared turning it into a franchise, neither written nor directed by the Coens, would tarnish the “Fargo” legacy.
Still, I gave it a chance and was delighted to discover that my worries were for naught. Creator Noah Hawley’ adaptation was not a rehash of the original film, but rather existed in the same universe, took place in the same region, and carried the same spirit and charm. It was not only respectful of the Coen Brothers’ grand achievement (the Coens signed on as executive producers to the series after reading the script), but a true tribute to both the film and the Coens’ other cinematic work.
The first season, starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman, made one hell of an impression, not just on me but also the critics. It picked up both the Emmy and Golden Globe for best mini-series.
When a second season was announced, it was learned that Hawley would be going the anthology route from there on out, with each new season featuring a different ensemble cast and entirely new story. And remarkably, the show has hit it out of the park every time, maintaining the proper essence, while paying deep, cerebral homage to the Coens’ large body of work (including re-imaging scenes from various films, Easter eggs, and name and location tie-ins).
The casting throughout has been excellent, with film stars like Ewan McGregor, Carrie Coon, Patrick Wilson, Kirsten Dunst, and Jennifer Jason Leigh putting in memorable performances with lesser known but immensely talented actors and actresses. A hallmark of the series has been morally-tested protagonists, chilling bad guys, and believable badasses — a killer combination.
Honestly, even the worst season of Fargo (which was probably season four) is far better than most of what’s on television these days.
Season five just wrapped up, and as expected, it was fantastic. Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple and Mad Men’s Jon Hamm led another brilliant cast through an edgy and immersive story. And just like I felt the need to share with the world the greatness of the film a few decades back, I figured it was time to do the same with the series. Because, despite its critical acclaim, I’ve found that a lot of people have yet to give it a shot, or didn’t even know it existed.
If you’re one of those folks, feel free to thank me in advance. Because the show really is something special — quite possibly the best ever television adaptation of a film. At least, I can’t think of any better.
What’s your favorite television adaptation of a film? Let me know in an email, or in the comment section below.
Obligatory Dog Shot
Catch Up on the Sean Coleman Thrillers
I got this one for Christmas.
“Live at the Print Shop” is a live, acoustic set of Drivin N Cryin songs, which includes an absolutely amazing version of “Straight to Hell.” I think it was recorded about four years ago, but it was released on vinyl for the first time late last year.
It’s a great listen.
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